Hussam Al Zaher on the difference between Hamburg and Germany

In an interview, Hussam Al Zaher talks about the importance the city of Hamburg has for him and about racism in Germany.

Hussam Al Zaher © Miguel Ferraz
Hussam Al Zaher © Miguel Ferraz

We refugees and foreigners can connect with a city very well, but it is very difficult for us to connect with a country. It doesn’t matter if Germany or another country. It also doesn’t matter if I get the passport quickly or with difficulty. It is all about getting a feeling. I don’t feel foreign in Hamburg – I feel in my home in Hamburg – but I am definitely still a foreigner in Germany. I started my magazine here in Hamburg, I have a lot of friends, I found love and I started a new family. And all this has a connection to Hamburg as a city. And therefore Hamburg is my city, but Germany is not my country. And I don’t know if this is only true for me, but I believe that many refugees feel that they can go to a city and belong to it. We want that. It is easy to go into a city and make a home there, but in a country it is totally complicated.

I feel foreign in Germany. In any case. It has to do with many different things: With racism against refugees, with prejudices, because I don’t quite know the language yet. I couldn’t quite belong to Germany, even if I had the German passport. In my opinion, the majority does not accept me. I say this as a Hussam, as a Muslim, as a refugee, as a foreigner, when asked: Who am I? What is my identity? And that is not easy to find, it is very difficult. People who were born here in Germany still have this feeling of being foreign, even though they were born here. And what can I say, as someone who has only been in Germany for four years.

In the end, Hamburg is a new home for me. My old home is Damascus. I also lived in Istanbul for a while and feel at home there as well. And I have a fourth home: My parents come from the Golan, which is in southern Syria. My parents told me a lot about the Golan. That also feels like my home.

I don’t know all the people from Hamburg, but there are many volunteers here, as in other cities, and I have met many people. They are nice, they also have prejudices like other people, but the question is how to deal with your prejudices. But I have only met nice people.

My favorite place in Hamburg is the port. If there is a port in a city, it means an openness for other cities. Cities by the sea are more open than cities in the middle or without access to the sea or water. For me, a port means openness and hopefully tolerance towards strangers.

My favorite district is definitely Sankt Pauli. I have always lived there and my office is also there. I can really say that I belong to Sankt Pauli more than to Hamburg. But Hamburg is of course also more than just St. Pauli for me. I know Sankt Pauli very well. I also know the story of St. Pauli, according to which people there tend to be left-wingers and are more likely to accept others than other people. There are many young people there who are open to different cultures and people.

Hussam Al Zaher came from Syria to Hamburg in 2016, where he lives today.

Hussam studied political science in Damascus and began working as a journalist in Syria. Once in Germany, he founded kohero Magazine (originally: Flüchtling Magazin), an online magazine with two print issues per year. There is also a podcast. Kohero (“solidartiy” in Esperanto) gives refugees in Germany a platform to introduce themselves and discuss their opinions on socio-political issues.

In the interview excerpt, Hussam Al Zaher describes why he feels at home in Hamburg, while identification with Germany is far more difficult for him due to exclusionary and racist attitudes within German society.

The interview with Hussam Al Zaher was conducted on July 22, 2020 via Skype.

Read more on kohero Magazine here.